Publishing barons: Free speech a 'cloak for tawdry theft'

Chief hits out at those who 'seek to erode copyright'

Search engines, internet service providers and the British Library are among a number of bodies trying to scale back the scope of copyright, the head of a UK trade body has said.

Richard Mollet, chief executive of the Publishers Association, criticised the organisations, which, together with research councils, consumer watchdog Consumer Focus and digital freedoms campaigners the Open Rights Group (ORG) have all been "seeking to erode copyright" to varying degrees, according to a statement issued by the Association.

In recent months representatives of rights-holders in the creative industries, including the Publishers Association, have met with search engines, ISPs and Consumer Focus at government-chaired meetings to discuss measures to tackle piracy. Rights-holders have proposed voluntary frameworks for combating the problem, but to date search engines have yet to agree on them, while Consumer Focus has also expressed scepticism over the plans drafted.

The government is also considering introducing new exceptions to copyright, including for the use of works for educational purposes.

In its response to the government's consultation on the reforms The British Library said it backed (60-page/403KB PDF) the idea. It has also long campaigned for a loosening of copyright rules to allow copyrighted works to be digitised more easily and made available through its archives.

ORG has itself backed the government's plans to extend the exceptions that currently exist to copyright. The campaigners have been particular advocates of plans to allow copyrighted material to be free to use in parody or pastiche.

Those who suggest that sending letters to alleged copyright infringers is a "disproportionate" action are engaging in "audacious hyperbole" – Mollet

ORG also launched a series of freedom of information requests to Government about anti-piracy issues, one of which revealed that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport holds no evidence about the "scale and nature" of online copyright infringement.

Speaking at a media forum last week, Mollet criticised lobbyists for "having the temerity to appropriate the language of freedom of expression as a cloak for tawdry theft" by individual users. He added that it was "a grotesque attempt to draw moral equivalence between stealing someone’s work and the struggle for political representation."

Those who suggest that sending letters to alleged copyright infringers is a "disproportionate" action are engaging in "audacious hyperbole," Mollet said.

Under the Digital Economy Act, communications regulator Ofcom is required to publish a code of practice setting out the procedures ISPs must follow to combat illegal file sharing. In its draft code of practice, Ofcom said that internet users should receive three warning letters from their ISP if they are suspected of copyright infringement online. Details of illegal file-sharers that receive more than three letters in a year would be added to a blacklist, the draft code said. Copyright holders would have access to the list to enable them to identify infringers.

Earlier this year the ORG said that a High Court judge had made findings on the nature of the terms used and demands made in letters to alleged copyright infringers which it said should set out the way letters sent under Ofcom's finalised anti-piracy code should look.

ORG had said that the ruling meant "letters sent by copyright-owners or their representatives will have to properly safeguard the legitimate interests of consumers, in particular those who are innocent of wrong-doing" and that "this should significantly restrict the ability of such companies to send out intimidating ‘pay now – or else' letters in the future."

Ofcom is expected to publish its finalised code of practice towards the end of June.

Mollet also criticised reports that have been written on a controversial international treaty on intellectual property. He said there had been "casual disregard for accurate briefing" and that the reports on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) had been full of "inaccuracies and falsehoods".

He added there needs to be recognition that creators have fundamental rights to their property.

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